A Sovereign Kurdistan Under International Law


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March 16, 2016 23:40 EDT

What makes international law particularly relevant to Kurdistan is that in order to recognize one, we must recognize the other.

The South China Sea is a contentious flashpoint for China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines and Thailand, all of whom lay claim over the waters. If international waters could be sovereign, China would be culpable of belligerent occupation. When the International Court of Justice tried to summon China to court to resolve disputes over ownership of territorial islands, Beijing declined. Hence, the problem with international law is it is not mandatory, but voluntary.

Kurdistan, boasting a population of at least 5 million, is a nation that flourishes despite lacking unanimous international recognition. A cursory study reveals a robust capital, a cohesive linguistic and cultural identity, and the means by which to sustain and protect its people. Yet in spite of this, Kurdistan is not a complete de jure state by any means. Just like the South China Sea, Kurdistan is centered between a host of sovereign nations: Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.

Stipulations for Statehood

What makes international law particularly relevant to Kurdistan is that in order to recognize one, we must recognize the other, and in doing so bolster international relations across the board. Right now, until we validate and enforce the decisions of international law tribunals—which hold ubiquitous jurisdiction over matters that concern multiple sovereignties—Kurdistan will not receive the autonomy it deserves.

This goes against current norms which dictate that as long as free and fair elections can be conducted—concomitant a rule of law—a democratic state exists. Kurdistan deserves this recognition for some very simple reasons.

First and foremost, the nation of Kurdistan qualifies for statehood via the enumerated provisions of the 1933 Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States. One of the requirements for statehood under this multipolar treaty is to have a fixed and steady population, which Kurdistan fulfills. Evidenced by an official census promulgated by the de facto ruling government, Kurds are clearly tallying their people at a modest rate. Estimates have to err on the side of caution, as many internally displaced people from Iraq and Syria often traverse their land.

The second stipulation for statehood is that a government be founded by a people, and this condition is easily satisfied by the establishment of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). Moreover, to dispel any lingering doubt, Kurdistan has gone leaps and bounds to nuance and authenticate its government, by both expanding the political parties to include “two main parties of Southern Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK),” and also ratifying a constitution in 2009 by its parliament.

A third provision considers the relation of territory to a sovereign nation, but before a sovereignty can be officially allocated territory, the government must first provisionally decide which lines demarcate its country. The KRG has successfully satisfied this requisite by administering territory through national and regional sources, which thereafter is compiled by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) for dissemination.

As an objective, impartial, global entity, the UN has a legal duty to acknowledge Kurdistan’s predicament as well.

Finally, we confront the test of all tests of the convention: Can a nation successfully negotiate foreign relations? This question requires only a binary response: a yes or a no. American media outlets have emblazoned Kurdish insignias on their prompters often when leveraging a story about the war against the Islamic State. To an extent, this is already a soft indication of foreign relations. However, more explicit negotiations have been going on as well. In 1992, 1999 and 2002, a majority of Iraqi opposition forces—prompted by the vast implications of US sponsorship—had acceded to Kurdistan’s proposal of a two-unit federation in Iraq.

Doctrine of Self-Determination

In accordance with the international law doctrine of self-determination, the Kurds have a shared cultural identity that is significant enough to warrant an establishment of statehood. One of many constructivists’ assertions is that history reveals the societal framework of a country. In other words, genesis and subsequent development is the cornerstone to how outsiders should evaluate a state.

If one was to analyze the historical advancement of Iraq, vis-à-vis the evolution of Kurdistan, they would immediately discern a diverging rift: Leaders in Baghdad have, generation after generation, sold empty promises of a national language, education and local self-governance rights to Kurds.

The burden of this struggle to be heard does not solely rest on Kurdistan’s shoulder. The United Nations (UN) has precedent for actively involving itself in the preservation and initiation of statehood by calling for General Assembly proceedings. As an objective, impartial, global entity, the UN has a legal duty to acknowledge Kurdistan’s predicament as well.

It is self-evident that Kurdistan can invoke the higher calling of UN assistance through “Paragraph 2 of General Assembly Resolution 1514 of 14 December 1960, which recall[s] the important role of the United Nations in ‘assisting the movement for independence in Trust and Non-Self-Governing Territories.’ In 1960 it adopted Resolution 1514(XV), which determined that a Non-Self-Governing Territory is a territory which is ‘geographically separate’ and ‘ethnically distinct’ from the country administering it.”

The UN has been outspoken in instances of Kosovo and Palestinian independence, so other analogous cases must surely apply as well.

The bottom line is that international law and a “sovereign” Kurdistan complement each other in ways where exponents of one must rally behind the other. For the validation and implementation of either in a respectable sphere, it is not only sufficient, but ever so necessary that we understand their symbiotic relationship. Only then can we move forward with a precedent that underscores rapport in our secularizing and diversifying world.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Thomas Koch / 

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